7.28.15 Mycelium Is Better Than Yours
When the weather is rainy and the woods become damp and funky, I hear the siren song of the mushrooms. They beseech me to venture deep into the understory on a thrilling quest full of promise. A good day means they are everywhere, in so many guises—popping up alongside the path, jutting out from tree trunks, spreading on the underside of rotting logs. They are red and brown and purple and neon yellow. I've always been a good spotter, known for my eagle eye, but I chock it up to a very simple technique: I seek out anomalies in the landscape. I soften or almost blur my vision, allowing my eye to catch upon whatever sticks out as different in the vast sameness. Along this journey, I absorb the deep stillness of the trees; hear the melancholy song of the wood lark; follow old trails and trace new ones; and feel a rich peace settle over me, a profound sense of contentment to be out in the natural world, where beauty knows no bounds.
This is Gomphus floccosus, the so-called "woolly chanterelle." It is toxic and so must be appreciated for its color and form alone. Interested in learning more about the fungus among us? Get yourself a good book and start identifying the ones that pop up near you. (Gary Lincoff is a good source.)
If you don't venture into the woods, you can find lots of "wild" mushrooms at farmers markets. There are a number of new growing ventures that have been successful with the more common oyster and shiitake, but also with maitake, lion's mane and even reishi.
This chaga, a hard, woody mushroom that grows on birch, was a serious find. Known as "the mushroom of immortality," it survives in harsh climates by concentrating potent phytochemicals that are extremely nourishing to the tree it inhabits, and to humans. Tea made from chaga has a pleasant, faintly bitter taste with a hint of vanilla. It's delicious with milk and honey. I plan to carefully harvest enough to enjoy all winter long.
This is one of the few in the amanita family that is considered edible, but other members have names like "destroying angel" and "death cap." There are enough readily identifiable and delicious edibles available without having to risk eating a toxic amanita. As always, I remind you "when in doubt, throw it out." Never put anything in your mouth unless you are certain it is edible.
This summer's yield has included lots of oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus), a respectable amount of black trumpets (Craterellus cornucopioides) and tons of reishi (Ganoderma tsugae), another highly medicial mushroom also known as "varnish cap" because of its shiny red surface. I'm already dreaming of what a cool, rainy fall might bring...